When Thomas Cook went bankrupt on Sunday night, the travel company’s collapse left hundreds of thousands of travellers and several hundred staff – including cabin crew stranded abroad. In some cases, Thomas Cook even sent some cabin crew out on long-haul flights knowing full well that the company was about to go bust and there would be no way to get crew back home.
While the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched the UK’s largest-ever peacetime repatriation effort to get 150,000 Thomas Cook customers home, the situation for stranded cabin crew was less certain. There was no communication from the company and with bills going unpaid, some crew were thrown out of hotels, while others were held captive in a bid to get outstanding debts paid.
Some airlines have very publicly come to the rescue of ex-Thomas Cook cabin crew – Virgin Atlantic, for example, has said it is helping return stranded crew back to the UK. A photo of one group of crew being flown back in the airline’s Upper Class business cabin has since gone viral.
But another group of Thomas Cook crew stranded in Las Vegas weren’t quite as lucky. Eight crew members had been thrown out of a hotel in Sin City and had gone to the airport in a bid to get help from any airline that could help repatriate them to the UK – One of the group shared their experience when they asked British Airways for help.
It appeared that rather than trying to help the group, British Airways was only willing to sell it’s last three remaining Business Class seats at full-price – £10,000 ($12,300) per ticket. If that wasn’t bad enough, the airline wasn’t willing to release any jumpseats for the desperate crew members because they technically weren’t crew any more.
People have been left aghast at BA’s treatment of the group but thankfully, not all is what it seems. Instead, this sorry has a happy end and in fact, British Airways did pull out all the stops to help the group. According to several sources, the crew members were booked onto an American Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Chicago because all direct flights out of the country were fully booked.
From Chicago, the group were then flown home on a British Airways flight free of charge. One other crew member who had taken a friend with them to Las Vegas had to wait an extra day but has now been repatriated without cost.
It’s not entirely clear why the group were initially quoted full-price last-minute fares by British Airways but at the very least the airline has stepped in to correct the error. Other Thomas Cook crew members have spoken of being rescued by British Airways in other destinations without incident and thanking the airline for their help.
Around 150 Thomas Cook crew members have been flown home as part of the CAA’s repatriation programme which has been codenamed Operation Matterhorn. Within the first three days of the operation, around 46,000 travellers have been repatriated – the operation is set to last a total of 10-days and may cost as much as £600 million.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.